When we signed up for a trip up to the waterfalls of Lata Berumbun, we were promised a nice, stress-relieving dip as the waterfall massaged our problems away. Or at least, that was what we expected with the name Shirin-Yoku.
But as it happens, nature has its own will and the heavy rain on the day before cause a massively bumpy road on the way up to the waterfall.
We went up to the waterfall in two four-wheelers, where our local guide of the day by the name of Khoo Chiao Ning told us that it really looked like an extreme ride up, “Like Temple Run in real life,” she said, because we had to duck away from branches.
The trip to Raub with LokaLocal was definitely for thrill-seekers who might actually appreciate the ride up as an adventure.
Chiao Ning did apologise for the ride, but it was all part and parcel of travel.
“Sometimes life is just unknown. If we know the destination it’s not beautiful for me,” she said later that day, after we had a nice dip in the cool waters.
As the cool waters swirled around our feet, Chiao Ning opened up about the experience.
“I’ve come up here many times, but every time it is with different people. So the feeling is that every trip is unique. And every traveller who comes here is a chance for me to grow as well.”
Coming Home To Stay
Besides just day trips, Chiao Ning is actually a homestay owner in a small, quaint village in Raub.
Born and raised in that area, she moved out to spend a total of 7 years in KL before moving back.
“I was feeling quite bored with KL life. It was too fast and rushed for me. But I didn’t know what I would do if I quit my job as an interior designer,” she said.
However, the answer was taken out of her hands.
“When my father got hit with stroke 4 years ago, we brought him and my mother out to live in KL as we were worried about the both of them staying in their house by themselves. So they stayed with us in KL for 2 years.”
“After that, I felt like my father’s life is so boring in KL. He’s always facing the television. All of us (the children) are busy. When we go back home we’re also tired, and we don’t have much more communication with our father. I started to wonder if there was something I could do.”
Remembering the house that she grew up in, she finally decided that she would bring her parents to live a better life back in their hometown by starting a homestay business.
“Actually, coming back I didn’t really think about whether anyone would come to my home to stay in, I just did it.”
But she would come to find that her homestay did eventually do quite well. She used her experience as an interior designer to spruce up her childhood home into an adorable house away from home. She also cordoned off the house so both her parents can live their lives comfortably while still chatting with the guests if they liked.
“I think at first, my father was not used to guests coming inside our home. My father was an OKU so sometimes he needed the space for his lifestyle. I had to make space which was suitable for both my dad and for travellers to live harmoniously together under one roof.”
Over time, she was finally able to slowly build a home for both her guests and her parents. Until her father’s eventual passing, she was able to run her homestay smoothly.
In that time, Chiao Ning discovered that she finds genuine joy in being a tour guide back in her own hometown.
“This time we took 4X4, but sometimes we walk up the hill ourselves. Sometimes, it’s with parents with children. So the experience is quite special for me. And I learn something from the guests like how parents teach their kids. So for me it’s an ingredient for me to grow.”
“Right now I enjoy my life with my mom, with my old-school house, my dogs and the travellers. Travellers come to my house like friends who would come to visit me. I like the communication and the real talking to one another,” she said.
Bumps In The Road
It truly felt like she found what she wanted to do with her life, but as Chiao Ning told us later that day, it may come to an end sometime in May 2017.
It seems that the owners of the area plan to hike up the price of the land they live on. She and some of the other villagers do not think that they will be able to pay off the hike and have taken some effort to appeal their decision, and perhaps even try to raise funds for their cause.
As of now though, everything is still up in the air and it seems that Chiao Ning has made her peace with that, as sad as she is. “I’m going to continue to enjoy my life as long as I can,” she said that day, after telling us of her efforts to reclaim her home and to continue doing what she loves.
We sat in silence for a while, before Chiao Ning invited us to join her in meditation.
We appreciated the bumpy ride up to the waterfall a little better once we too started to think about how bumpy real life is. Take life as it comes, and make lemonade out of lemons.
Until then, anyone with an interest in enriching Chiao Ning’s experience as a guide can find her through LokaLocal.
This article is part of a series with LokaLocal as they continue to use technology to highlight unique local experiences and interesting people.